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Fearless Submission and Considerate Honor, I - 1 Peter 3:1-7

Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king. Those are Peter’s instructions for Christian behavior before a watching world. In verses 1-6, he makes these commands specific to a Christian wife by instructing her to be subject to her own husband, even those husbands who do not obey the word, using the example of Sarah to illustrate submission in terms of obedience and honor.

In verse 1, Peter explains why: so that unbelieving husbands might be won over by the godly behavior of their wives. In verses 1 and 3, he tells a Christian woman how not to win their husbands – by nagging or by seduction, and in verses 2 and 4, he gives positive instructions – by respectful and pure conduct, and with inner beauty. Verses 5-6 remind them of godly examples in the past, especially Sarah’s submission to Abraham, and at the end of verse 6, Peter exhorts Christian wives to do good and submit without fear.

As the rest of the Bible makes clear, within Christian marriage, wives are called to submit to husbands (not women to men; wives to husbands!) for various reasons having to do with creation, calling, and Christ and the church. But here, Peter calls for submission in a particular circumstance for a particular purpose. Peter is explaining why God wants Christian wives to submit even to non-Christian husbands who don’t care about God’s reasons for submission. The reason for submission in these circumstances isn’t theology, it’s mission. God wants wives to subject themselves to their unbelieving husbands in the fear of Lord so that their husbands might be won for the gospel.

And so the next few verses discuss strategy for winning a husband who rejects the word of God. When the husband in this scenario refuses to hear more about the gospel, then what? How should a Christian woman seek to win him?

In Proverbs, two of Dame Folly’s minions show up as recurring characters: the nagging wife and the seductress, the harpy and the harlot. One uses her words to get what she wants, and one uses her wiles. One uses her brains, and the other, her body. While not quoting Proverbs directly, Peter leans on those two characters as examples of the kind of women that Christian wives ought not to be. Feminist harpies work themselves into a lather over the very idea that a man can ever tell a woman not to use her words anymore, and seductive fashionistas have a completely wrong-headed understanding of what beauty really is and what it’s good for, so Peter instructs Christian wives of unbelieving husbands to reject the worldly ways of the nagging harridan and the manipulative harlot.

But here’s the good news. These are not the only two options! Instead, Peter tells Christian wives to focus on godly character, the secret and hidden beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit. This beauty has been displayed in the past by holy women like Sarah, and can be seen even now in the lives of her spiritual daughters among God’s people.

Even as he says this, though, Peter is fully aware of how terrifying it is to submit to a man who doesn’t play by God’s rules, especially when the world’s tools of nagging and seduction are not an option for Christian wives. But when he closes those doors, Peter points Christian wives to the open door of following Jesus, who chose to endure unfair treatment in silence, trusting in God to make things right. He does not counsel them to grasp equality with or seek authority over their husbands; he encourages them to share the life of Jesus, which leads to a better form of equality and a higher authority than the world can ever give. By following Jesus’ gentle and quiet spirit, these women become very precious to God, and so Peter urges them to do good and not be afraid of anything that is frightening, because God will take care of His precious children, just like He did for Jesus.

By doing so, Peter honors Christian wives with high expectations. He’s not offering smelling salts to fainting women who are intimidated by unbelieving husbands. He is making battle plans with warrior women who want to win their husbands for Christ. This is offense, not defense! The question is not “How can I keep myself safe?” The question is “How can I save my husband?”, which is gospel selflessness in action. Instead of giving advice on how to minimize suffering in an unhappy marriage, God calls a Christian wife to a life of fearless submission for the sake of gospel witness.

Posted on Wednesday, August 31, 2016 by CJ Bowen